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Quinn to lay off 1,900 state workers, close facilities to help save $313 million

Gov. PQuinn announces closing seven state facilities resulting 1938 layoffs due budgetary issues. Thursday September 8 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Gov. Pat Quinn announces the closing of seven state facilities, resulting in 1,938 layoffs due to budgetary issues. Thursday, September 8, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 9, 2011 1:12PM

Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday he intends to lay off more than 1,900 state workers and close seven state facilities, including the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, in a budget-cutting move meant to help close a $313 million shortfall.

“I have to act today on behalf of the people of Illinois to maintain the core functions of each of our departments in state government,” Quinn told reporters.

The closures and layoffs, which will save the state $54.8 million, open a bitter new wound between Quinn and state government’s largest employee union, AFSCME Council 31, over a no-layoff campaign pledge the governor agreed to in writing with the union last year.

“It simply doesn’t hold water, just the common sense that you can agree to a contract and then later say, ‘It’s not convenient for me to live up to the contract.’ That wouldn’t be good enough for any of us with our credit card bills. It shouldn’t be good enough for collective bargaining,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.

Thursday’s announcement also sets the stage for a potential confrontation between Quinn and state lawmakers, who return to Springfield in late October for their fall veto session with a new ultimatum from the governor now topping their agenda.

As dire as his cuts appeared, Quinn left open the possibility of backing away from some of the closures and layoffs if the House and Senate would simply uphold $376 million in budget cuts he made through a series of vetoes in June.

“I think they should support my vetoes, uphold my vetoes, consider, if they wish, reallocating some of that $376 million to deal with the events we’re announcing today,” the governor said.

But neither Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) nor House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) offered any signs Thursday they were yet prepared to sign off on such a deal.

“The governor is recognizing the very, very difficult economic times the nation is facing. The Legislature had to face that and recognize that a couple of months ago,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

The speaker’s aide declined to say whether lawmakers would adhere to Quinn’s new budgetary roadmap.

“Any alteration would have to go back through the appropriations process. How that ends up, I don’t do predictions,” Brown said.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the Senate president planned to “revisit the shortcomings of the budget that was passed this spring” during the veto session and pledged to “study” the governor’s proposal in the coming weeks.

Except for Tinley Park, the facilities Quinn intends to close are Downstate, including the Singer Mental Health Center, the Chester Mental Health Center, the Jacksonville Developmental Center, the Mabley Developmental Center, the Logan Correctional Center and Murphysboro Youth Correctional Center.

The layoffs target workers at all of those facilities and could begin as early as November, according to the governor and material provided by his office.

A legislative panel, the Commission on Government Forecasting & Accountability, could slow down the process because it is required under state law to review facility closures and offer its advisory opinion to the administration. Quinn gave formal notice of the closures to that commission on Thursday.

The facilities that the governor wants to close mostly lie within Republican legislative districts. Only the Tinley Park Mental Health Center — the lone Chicago-area facility on the chopping block — and Chester Mental Health Center are in areas represented by Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature.

State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he would not directly criticize Quinn for making budget cuts but questioned why five out of the seven facilities targeted for mothballing are on Republican turf.

“I do think it’s noteworthy … how many of these jobs happen to be in districts where legislators, particularly Republicans, weren’t willing to go along with his borrowing plan,” Murphy said, referring to the governor’s failed efforts to persuade GOP lawmakers to embrace $8.75 billion in borrowing last spring to pay down unpaid bills.

“Is this political payback in an attempt to ratchet up political pressure? That remains to be seen,” Murphy said.

Quinn said the age of the buildings to be closed and their proximity to other state facilities that can take on new patients or prisoners were the prime considerations in which places would be closed.

The governor also insisted he is not bluffing with what would be the largest closure of state facilities in memory.

“This is not [yelling] fire in a crowded theater. This is real life. This is reality,” he said. “When you adopt a budget that slashes the amount of money for human services, including mental health and developmental disabilities, doesn’t give you enough money to pay the employees or pay for the facilities, something has to give, and what has to give is we have to close down some of those facilities.”

Quinn’s budget-cutting exercise came less than 12 hours after his administration won a federal ruling backing his decision to withhold raises to 30,000 unionized state workers.

AFSCME, which had gone to federal court to block Quinn’s decision, vowed to appeal U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough’s ruling.

The savings from the withheld raises coupled with the $54.8 million Quinn intends to save with the layoffs and closures still leaves a $182.8 million shortfall that Quinn’s office said will necessitate “further steps.”

Contributing: Adeshina Emmanuel

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